It took four days and a 1,000 km on-and-off Bastar division's bumpy highways to spot some armed security personnel on the 90-km stretch between Dantewada and Bijapur.
This is supposed to be ground zero of the battle between Maoists and the government —more lives were lost in this belt than in J&K last year — with both sides fighting to control over one-third of the 40,000 sq km dominated by the Maoists.
But, unlike J&K, it is rare to spot security personnel outside Bastar's capital, Jagdalpur.
And this, a year after the Centre kicked off its "coordinated and combined action" against naxals with states, and pledged to "overcome the naxals in 2-3 years".
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Delhi-headquartered Institute for Conflict Management, says this is wishful thinking. "Who will do this? Bastar has just one policeman for every five sq km," he said. "Forget about winning the war… we haven't even started fighting it, except in fits. Without resources, none of this is of any use."
A Chhattisgarh police officer agreed, saying the operational strength of the police was almost equal to the number of armed maoist guerrillas in Bastar division that comprises five districts including Bijapur, Dantewada and Narayanpur.
"Of the 10,000 armed cadres in the state, more than 8,000 operate out of Bastar," said a state intelligence officer in Raipur. He put the deployment of security forces — central and state — at about 18 battalions, each with a sanctioned strength of 1,050 personnel. But officers said only about 9,000 would be available to go after the naxals at any point in time. The force ratio in other violent areas — J&K, Manipur, Punjab — was around 15 jawans per terrorist.
"Bastar's is not strictly a manpower problem. The problem is terrain, vast area and the fact that the guerrillas move from one place to another. Security forces, however, can't have a mobile camp," said Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwaranjan. But he agreed these reasons raise the requirement of forces.
Former CRPF chief JK Sinha had estimated 70 battalions must be deployed to deal with the situation in Chhattisgarh. Some army officers put the need closer to 100 battalions.
Police officers said they were trying to make up for the fewer numbers by hitting Maoists at their weakest spots.
"It is the only way, tire them out psychologically," a senior officer said.
Sahni, however, worries that rewarding policemen for killing lower-rung cadre could encourage them to go overboard, killing sympathisers or the poor.